Sunday, July 13, 2014

My Secret Life in Hut Six One woman's experiences at Bletchley Park by Mair Russell Jones

Mair, a young Welsh girl from a small village, wondered what she had got herself into! She felt privileged to be chosen to do important and secret work for the war effort, but she had landlords from hell, and she didn't understand her 'Enigma' machine or the reams of codes with which she had to cope. She was also a long way from her widowed father, her sister and her boyfriend.

This is a fascinating book about Bletchley Park and the Second World War. The real-life heroine was a clever and engaging young woman who studied at Mt Harmon in London during the lead-up to the war and ministered to the people in the devastatingly poor East End of London.  Here she saw some of the aftermath of one of Oswald Mosley's terrible riots and she came to understand some of the sufferings of the Jewish people.

She then decided to study German and history at Cardiff University, and fell in love with a young pacifist with fierce convictions.  Here she experienced terrifying bombing raids and the death of her best friend.  This brought the war home to her, so when she was offered the chance to do secret work for the Foreign Office, she leapt at it.

The main problem with this interesting book is that the story takes a long time to actually get to Bletchley Park, and not that much of it is set in Bletchley Park.  However,  I enjoyed reading about an unsung war heroine, and life in Great Britain during the war.  The writing was a little bit dry at times, but this book is definitely a 'keeper' for history or biography lovers.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Secret Lives of the Tsars: Three Centuries of Autocracy, Debauchery, Betrayal, Murder, and Madness from Romanov Russia by Michael Farquhar

I found the beginning of this book a bit gruesome for my tastes. Most of Russia's Tsars were either terrifying, mad, drunk or promiscuous.sometimes they were all three! For example, Ivan the Terrible killed people at the drop of a hat; Peter the Great beheaded one of his own mistresses; and Catherine the Great thought that sleeping with young men would keep her young.

This book is a somewhat frivolous look at the lives of the Tsars until the war with Napoleons when it becomes more serious. Farquhar also writes about the terrible end of the Romanov dynasty well, although he is extremely hard on Empress Alexandra, appearing to blame her for bringing the Russian Empire down. He does, however, include Kerensky's quotes about the royal couple. Kerensky found them both charming and serious, and he reversed his bad opinion of them.

This is a useful introduction, but it's unsuitable for students at university.

Monday, July 07, 2014

A Triple Knot by Emma Campion

This fast-paced novel about the 'Fair Maid of Kent' kept me riveted until the last minute. Joan of Kent has many enemies, including the evil and ambitious Isabella and the mistress of the man she loves. 
I especially liked the intricate descriptions of the medieval atmosphere - you could almost feel Joan's dresses - and the moving development of the romance. However, I found the writing a bit modern at times.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Kate's Escape From The Billable Hour by Petula Parker

Kate's ambition is to be a caring lawyer working for the downtrodden, but she works for the law firm from hell where nouns and adjectives are frowned upon, money is everything, and she has to wear beige. She finally gets fed up, and takes off for beautiful Barcelona to find her teenage love Diego. But is she happy?
This book was even funnier than Bridget Jones! Kate has one hilarious adventure after another in Barcelona where she accidentally advertises foot fungus treatment, gets caught by Diego in an embarrassing situation, and mistakes rats for puppies. This is a great holiday read or a perfect read to lighten your mood. I hope to see more books by Petula Parker soon!

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Walking in Sylvia Plath's Footsteps. My Salinger year by Joanna Rakoff

Walking in the footsteps of Sylvia Plath,  Joanna Rakoff starts work at a storied New York literary agency in a dimly-lit office lined with books of great American writers. Here she has to cope with a troubled boss and a typewriter, but this only adds to the old-world atmosphere. Imagine her surprise when she is told to answer letters to Jerry Salinger and talk to him on the phone. Rakoff sometimes answers the fan letters herself, using counselling skills that she didn't know she had.

As Rakoff copes with a nasty socialist boyfriend and her interesting publishing work, she matures and learns about the links between her old-school publishing world and her modern New York life. She also searches her soul to see if she can become a writer and a poet herself.

I just loved this book. It was like reading about a modern version of 'Jo' from Little Women as her namesake is thrown into the deep-end of a new career and struggles to find the Time to achieve her writing ambitions.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Why Cleaning Has Meaning: Bringing Wellbeing Into Your Home by Linda Thomas

I am afraid that I didn't finish this book, however I will try again. It is extremely esoteric and on philosophical, and a bit difficult to read.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Lenin Lives Next Door: Marriage, Martinis and Mayhem in Moscow by Jennifer Erimeeva

After I got over my disappointment that 'HRH' didn't mean His Royal Highness and the author didn't know Prince Charles (!), I really enjoyed this book. Erimeeva was once in love with the idea of imperial Russia, but she never dreamed that she'd end up actually living in Russia during the last days of the Soviet Union. She tells amusing tales of being culled from a book club, battles with the Red and White Queens and strange expat balls. This is a must-read for anyone interested in real life in Russia and Russian history.

Two things did upset me a bit - there was no need for so much swearing and Erimeeva seemed to have a patronising attitude to religion.